Monday, December 28, 2009

Intelligence Failure?

Accusations of yet another intelligence failure will undoubtedly be raised as we digest the near-miss of another airborne terrorism act just last week. Experts and amateurs will delve into the many aspects of this latest security breakdown: why did 'Umar Faruq 'Abd al-Mutalib hold a multiple-entry U.S. visa, how could he be listed on a watch list yet not raise enough concern to merit a second look by airline or airport security, did the British fail to share their visa denial to him with U.S. security officials or was this ignored, why did the fact that he paid cash for expensive air fare not raise any extra scrutiny, and lastly, why was he not subject to additional scrutiny after his own father reported his serious concerns to Nigerian and U.S. officials? Any one of these "red flags" should have raised security concerns and caused additional scrutiny before being allowed to board a U.S. carrier. I am also troubled with the hasty assertions by various officials that this individual acted alone, long before the investigation is completed, similar to hasty early claims that U.S. Army Major Nidal Hasan's act at Fort Hood was not terrorism.

These and many more issues will continue to be debated as the investigation progresses. So I will raise only one aspect of this incident (similar concerns apply to Major Hasan's act): eight years after the terrorism attacks of 9/11 we still don't seem to connect the dots. Are we faced with a systemic failure of the very system designed to protect our citizens from terrorism? Is Congress's 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act, passed in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, already obsolete or merely ignored? Has it not eliminated those crucial barriers between the intelligence and the law enforcement community? I have raised the question about acceptance of the provisions of this Act in previous blogs and can't help but raise this concern again.

Relevant congressional oversight committees must review the effects, accomplishments, and gaps in the 2004 Act now. How are intelligence, law enforcement and homeland security organizations coordinating their activities and sharing relevant actionable information? Is the Director of National Intelligence functioning as provided for in the Act? What are the systemic and political barriers to effective homeland security and prevention of terrorism? Is politicization impacting negatively on effective intelligence sharing?

Monday, December 14, 2009

CIA director balances spy agency, Washington politics

An AP article last week about CIA Director Leon Panetta's continuing efforts on behalf of his agency and appeasing Congress merely reinforces my previously offered opinion that he is miscast in the role of CIA director. Clearly his professional qualifications, the expectations the president has of him, and his efforts to date make it quite clear that he should be the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), who is the President's intelligence advisor and is charged with oversight of all US intelligence agencies and liaison to Congress.

Mark Lowenthal's comment that "One of the things that's unique about CIA is that this is the president's agency. They don't work for anybody else. If they are not effective, the person who gets hurt here is the big guy." is disappointing from an intelligence professional of his stature. He seems to ignore that the 2004 Intelligence Reform Act removed the director of CIA as the principal US intelligence commubity leader in his comments. It also points to the fact that the IC, and perhaps the administration, has not fully grasped or accepted the DNI concept instituted by Congress in 2004 (see my previous comment on this topic).

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Leon Panetta - Nominee for CIA Director

by Emily Francona

The local Monterey Peninsula community is all atwitter with the news of President-Elect Obama's nomination of local favorite Leon Panetta for the directorship of the Central Intelligence Agency. Local personalities and various self-appointed spokespersons, qualified or not, have already made statements for the record about the nomination. While most are justifiably proud of having a "local boy" potentially ascend to this highly responsible national position, it also reveals a lamentable lack of understanding of our intelligence community by these very same fans.

The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (Public Law 108-458) established the position of Director of National Intelligence (DNI) as the head of the U.S.intelligence community and as the principal advisor to the President. The Act directs that a nominee to this position "shall have extensive national security expertise" and prohibits the director of CIA from being dual-hatted as the Director of Central Intelligence, as was the case before this new law.

Let's review Panetta's qualifications: a legal background with extensive government experience, both in the legislative and executive branch, however little directly related to national security. While some of his experiences may well have brought him into passing contact with intelligence information and national security issues, such as when he was chief of staff for President Clinton, it is far short of the serious professional credentials needed to guide and direct the CIA, or any intelligence agency for that matter. While his public policy credentials are impressive, the CIA supports national security policy - these are two entirely different arenas.

Given the complexity of intelligence issues and the many real or perceived intelligence failures in the history of that agency, a thorough professional understanding of the intelligence profession is indispensable for effective leadership of the CIA. It is precisely because this agency needs reforms to produce more timely and actionable intelligence for U.S. national security decision-making, that its director must understand the capabilities and limitations of the intelligence business, and not be fooled by insiders’ ability to “wait out one more director.”

Some of the very qualifications touted by Panetta's fans are not desired or needed by a director: he does not need “the ear of the president” since that is the function of the DNI. Nor does this position require political savvy, since that is not a function of any intelligence agency director. In fact, it would be downright counterproductive, given repeated criticism of the “politicization of intelligence” in recent years. Similarly, the legal framework for the conduct of intelligence activities is provided by appropriate legislation, overseen by the DNI and checked by the legislative oversight committees.

It is surprising that President-Elect Obama apparently did not consult in advance with the leadership of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, the very body who will grant or not grant Panetta’s confirmation. If anything, the very advantages Panetta supporters recite are more suited for the office of DNI: this position does require considerable political savvy and direct access to the presidential, but also a thorough understanding of national security issues. It remains to be seen if Admiral Blair is that person, if confirmed.

Mr. Panetta: with all due respect to your fine public policy credentials, decline this appointment for the good of the intelligence community and the decision makers it serves. You would make an effective governor of California!